Hell & high water, p.16
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       Hell & High Water, p.16
 

         Part #1 of THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
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  “Everything I earn goes to my family, to keep them somewhere safe, with food, clothes, and education for my kids. I’d die before I let them end up at Greenpoint. It’s filled with Therians who refuse to acknowledge their Human side. Sometimes I wonder if they have any Humanity left in them.”

  “Thank you, Lloyd.” Now that the interview was over, came the even shittier part. Sloane mulled it over in his head, his gaze falling on Everton. He knew what Everton’s reply would be, but he made the effort regardless. “I don’t suppose it’ll do much to give you an extended period to register?”

  Everton gave him a sad smile. “Thank you, but no.”

  “Okay.” Sloane turned to Ash. “Hand me the TIK.” He took the black band from Ash and stepped up to Everton with an apologetic smile. “I need a sample of your DNA and confirmation of your classification. You’ll need to be held until the lab confirms the blood found on Mr. Ortiz isn’t yours.” Sloane slipped the cuff around Everton’s arm, tapped in his thumbprint passcode and started the scanning procedure. “If you’re cleared of all charges, you’ll be released and given a week to register. I can’t guarantee there will be a next time, Lloyd.”

  “Thank you.” Everton put his hand over Sloane’s and smiled warmly at him. “You’re a good guy.”

  Sloane couldn’t bring himself to say anything. He nodded and finished the analysis before removing the TIK with Everton’s full details and handing it to Ash. When he spoke, his voice was rougher than intended. “Agents Keeler and Guerrera will escort you to the holding cell.”

  Ash and Letty took their positions on either side of Everton and with a final nod of thanks from Everton, they silently escorted him from the truck. Sloane hoped that spending some time in the holding cell might make Everton change his mind. Maybe if he got a glimpse of what his future could be, he’d think about his family and decide they were more important. Sacrifices had to be made by everyone, Sloane was fully aware. He’d made plenty of his own throughout his life. There was no point bemoaning what could have been.

  Sloane had been given a second chance, and if he had to play the game in order to make the most of that chance, then so be it.

  “What now?” Cael asked softly.

  “Now, we wait for the lab results on Ortiz and pray something comes up. We have to solve this case. There’s something we’re missing.”

  “Well, in the meantime, why don’t you all take the rest of the night off,” Maddock said, heading for the end of the truck. “I’ll let you know about the DNA results as soon as we’ve got them, as well as anything new. Lieutenant Sparks is trying to get the Chief of Therian Defense to prioritize all our lab work. He wants this case solved as quickly as we do, so I suspect we’ll be granted approval. Calvin, Hobbs, my office. Sloane, park the BearCat and lock up, then hit the showers with everyone else.”

  “Yes, sir.” Sloane stepped to one side as Calvin and Hobbs wordlessly followed their sergeant. It looked like Maddock was going to deal with their teammates himself. Sloane didn’t know what had prompted Calvin to break formation like that. It wasn’t like him to be so reckless. Sloane addressed Rosa and Cael. “You two go ahead and brief Intel, and then hit the showers. We’ll take care of the truck.” Sloane closed the doors after Rosa and Cael, securing them before making his way to the front cabin and addressing Dex. “You can unload your equipment into one of the cages and stick your vest in your locker.”

  “Okay, thanks.”

  Sloane climbed into the driver’s side while Dex put away his rifles, backpacks, and most of his other equipment, leaving his thigh rig and tac vest on. Sloane had Dex bolt the door behind him when he walked into the cabin. As soon as Dex was in the passenger seat and buckled up, Sloane got them moving.

  “They gonna be okay?” Dex asked solemnly.

  “Who? Calvin and Hobbs?”

  “Yeah.”

  “You know your dad. He’ll scare the shit out of them, and make sure they know they fucked up, especially since they put his kid in danger.”

  “Maybe I should have a word with him,” Dex said with a frown, slouching in his seat as Sloane drove the BearCat up the ramp that led to the parking garage.

  “Not a good idea, Rookie.”

  “I don’t want him giving me special treatment because we’re family,” Dex replied irritably.

  “First of all, he’s not giving you special treatment. No one thinks that. Maddock treats you the same as everyone else. But if someone stupidly puts your life at risk, he’s going to pull a combo move of pissed off sergeant and enraged dad. There’s no way around that. He’s the same with Cael. You think your dad goes easy on Cael? If anything, he’s harder on him, but he does it because he wants his boys safe. You’re lucky, Rookie. Most of us never had that.”

  Dex was quiet for a moment, his gaze somewhere outside his window. “I take it your parents aren’t around?”

  Sloane pulled the BearCat into its space. He turned off the engine and sat there, aware of Dex watching him. Taking a deep, calming breath, Sloane faced Dex. “Okay, listen up, because I’m only going to say this once. I don’t talk about my past, so don’t ask me about my parents, where I came from, or what I did before the THIRDS. It’s nobody’s business. I don’t talk to anyone about it. Not Maddock, not the team, no one.”

  “Did you talk to Gabe about it?” Dex studied him closely, and Sloane looked away, a sharp pain twisting his gut.

  “That’s not up for discussion either. Lock the door behind you.” He climbed out of the truck, slamming the door behind him, the sound resonating through the cavernous underground garage. Dex caught up to him, keeping up with his long strides on the way to the elevator. He was also quiet, which Sloane had come to learn was not a good thing. It also never lasted long.

  “I respect that, but you’re sure there’s nothing I should know, as your partner?”

  “Saying you respect my decision and then following it up with a question that challenges it, voids your so-called claim of respect, Daley.”

  Dex held his hands up in surrender. “You’re calling me Daley, which means you’re pissed off with me. I get it. I’m sorry.”

  “I’m not pissed off,” Sloane grunted, stepping inside the elevator and placing his hand on the display pad. “Drop it. If there was something relevant, I would tell you.”

  “Okay.”

  They were both silent on the ride up to Sparta and through the lounge to the locker rooms where Sloane’s guilt started getting the better of him. He took Dex’s arm and pulled him into one of the empty training rooms. The lights were off but there was enough illumination coming through the atrium that they could see each other. Dex stood close enough for Sloane to catch his scent, a concoction of something citrusy plus Dex’s own male scent, with the addition of dirt and sweat. It took a lot for Sloane not to lean into him. It certainly knocked the wind out of his sails; his anger from moments ago completely subsided. Not since Gabe had he felt this strong a pull toward someone, and the worst part was he didn’t know what to do about it. The longer he spent in Dex’s company, the more messed up he felt inside.

  “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be a dick about it. I … I’m not ready to talk about that part of my life with anyone. I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready.” He put his hands to Dex’s cheek with the pretense of checking his injury. When his gaze met Dex’s, he found himself mesmerized by those eyes. He’d seen plenty of Therians with eyes that pale, but not many Humans. There was also something about them that drew him in. When those pools of blue lowered to Sloane’s lips, he knew he was in trouble.

  “If you ever feel like you’re ready, know you can trust me.”

  Sloane nodded, his thumb brushing over Dex’s soft lips, the feel of a hint of stubble under his hand making his body react in the most inappropriate way. He needed to walk away, right now. Dex stayed where he was, his breath as unsteady as Sloane’s. Their bodies had gravitated toward each other when the sounds of boisterous laughter from somewhere out in the hall gav
e them both a start, and Sloane jerked back, his heart threatening to pound through his chest.

  “We should go,” he said, motioning for Dex to go first. “Thank you, for earlier. For the PSTC.”

  Dex smiled at him, “Just doing my job.”

  “Well you did good.”

  By the time they got to the locker rooms, Calvin, Hobbs, Ash, and Cael were already inside. Calvin and Hobbs were moping as expected, but Sloane knew it wouldn’t last too long. Maybe they all needed something to lighten the mood.

  Sloane walked to his locker and started to remove his vest. “Hey, why don’t we all head to Bar Dekatria for a couple of drinks?”

  Dex smiled widely at him. “Yeah?”

  “Why not. I’ll let Maddock know in case there’s a callout. We deserve a little repose.”

  “Woo! Booze!” Cael did a little happy dance, making the team laugh, though Sloane’s gaze was on Dex. The guy had an amazing smile and genuine too, the kind that reached his eyes. He liked that Dex was open about everything, and whatever he did, he put his all into it. He was a hard worker, and Sloane was growing to appreciate Dex’s sense of humor, even if it drove him crazy at times. Sloane went back to getting undressed, removing his vest and shoving it at the bottom of his locker.

  Dex’s cell phone went off, and Sloane glanced over in time to catch him pushing his pants down over his ass. To Sloane’s horror, he left them there while answering his phone. The stark white of his boxer briefs was a sharp contrast to the charcoal tac pants, and it seemed to accentuate his deliciously rounded ass. Despite the voice in Sloane’s head telling him to look away, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He’d managed to resist the temptation of eyeing it until now. Dex pinned his phone against his ear with his shoulder while removing his vest, one side first then swapping his phone to the other side to remove his other arm.

  “I left it in your desk. Top right-hand drawer.”

  Sloane stole a quick glance to make sure no one had caught onto him before returning to his ogling. Dex was oblivious to his striptease as he continued to chat on his phone. Shirt now off, Dex stood in his snug black undershirt, the curve of his spine nearly as tantalizing as his ass. Sloane’s thoughts went to that night in the parking garage. He hadn’t been able to stop thinking about what they’d done, or what had gotten into him. A day didn’t go by that he didn’t recall with exceptional clarity how good Dex’s body felt against his, of Dex’s hard erection, the look of sheer pleasure on his flushed face as he came into Sloane’s hand.

  “Your other right,” Dex said with a snicker. “I’m sorry. I’m messing with you. It’s in the left.”

  The slam of a locker to Sloane’s right startled the hell out of him, and he turned to glare at Ash. His friend leaned against his closed locker, an eyebrow arched. With a heavy sigh, Sloane went back to putting his clothes away.

  “Enjoying the show?”

  Sloane gritted his teeth, refusing to take the bait. Just his luck. Out of everyone in the locker room, Ash had to be the one to catch him eyeballing his partner.

  “What?” Ash asked innocently. “Just an observation. Much like the one you were making of someone’s ass.” With a chuckle, Ash walked off.

  “Hey, think fast.” Dex tossed something at Sloane, and he caught it. It was a set of keys. “Hold on to those. You can drive us.”

  Behind Dex, Cael let out a loud whine. “Aw, come on, man. You’re letting him drive it?”

  Dex smiled broadly at his brother. “I trust him.”

  “You saying you don’t trust me?”

  “I do,” Dex replied with a wide grin. He stepped up to his brother, took hold of his chin and planted a sloppy kiss on his cheek. “Just not with my car.” With a laugh, Dex walked off. Cael wiped his cheek with the back of his hand.

  “You dick!” Cael turned to glare at Sloane.

  Uh-oh. “What?” Sloane asked as he put the keys into the pocket of his jeans, neatly folded in his locker. “Is that a big deal?”

  “Big deal?” Cael threw his arms up. “That car is like his freaking child. He doesn’t let anyone drive it. Not me, not Dad, not his ex. He covers it up at night and makes you agree to a verbal affidavit before he even lets you sit in the damn thing. I’m his brother! I’ve known him my whole life. He’s known you weeks and he gives you his keys?” Cael continued to rant on his way to the showers. “You think you know a guy and bam! He kicks you right in the feels. Why don’t you kick me in the nuts, Dex! It’ll hurt less!”

  Sloane laughed, hearing Dex’s reply from inside the showers. “Just remember, you suggested it.”

  They all hit the showers, the banter and jokes helping ease the day’s tension. Cael continued to whine about Dex not letting him drive his car, while Dex alternated between teasing his brother and getting on Ash’s nerves. Calvin and Hobbs were still quiet, but at least they were smiling. Afterward, they met Letty and Rosa in the lounge, where Cael shared his automotive woes with Rosa. She pulled him in for a hug and babied him like she always did, muttering comforting words in Spanish about her poor little gatito. Letty shook her head in amusement while Dex sped past Sloane with Ash on his heels threatening him with an imminent demise. This should make for an interesting evening.

  BAR DEKATRIA was less than a fifteen-minute drive from THIRDS HQ, surrounded by restaurants, and around the corner from Letty’s favorite Jamba Juice. Dekatria was a retro-style bar and club with three floors—a martini lounge, dance floor, and rooftop deck. The first floor was classy, with retrofitted loungers and even a lava lamp sitting on the bar, sure to be a hit with Dex. There was a spacious dance floor that tended to get full once the alcohol kicked in, though the real dancing happened on the second floor. It was all rich woods with dark accents, such as the black, tufted leather bar and leather seating. The many candles painstakingly arranged around the room, along with the various wall sconces gave the place a warm, intimate atmosphere. At the end of the long room were a couple of sleek pool tables, one of which Ash had already commandeered.

  It always went the same. Cael and Ash would team up to play against Letty and Rosa. Most likely, the boys would get their asses handed to them, and Ash would sulk until he was too drunk to remember what he was pissed off about. He’d hang on Cael, saying inappropriate things that would make Cael blush. Calvin and Hobbs would sit at a table nearby, chatting. Well, Calvin would chat, and Hobbs would listen and occasionally contribute to the conversation with a grunt or a hum.

  Sloane would do what he’d been doing for the last year, sit at a table close to his team or at the bar, drink himself to a nice buzz and then take a cab home. Why had he suggested coming here? He took a seat at the bar, about to order when his crazy-ass partner appeared, dropping onto the stool beside him.

  “Hey, partner!” Dex threw an arm around Sloane’s shoulders, a big grin on his face. “What’ll it be? Wait!” He squinted and put a finger to his temple. “Cosmo? Fuzzy Navel? Martini, shaken not stirred? No? Okay, hm.” Sloane braced himself as Dex put in an order. “Two Heinekens.”

  The tattooed bartender in a tight black T-shirt walked off with a chuckle to fetch their drinks. How did Dex manage to get everyone around him to fall for his charm? Except for Ash, of course. The guy seemed to be immune to that lopsided grin. The bartender returned with two bottles, popped the caps and slid them over. “Thanks, man. Can you keep a tab open for me and my posse?”

  An appreciative eye traveled over Dex. “Sure thing.” He gave Dex a wide smile before some customers called him over.

  Sloane shook his head. “How do you do it?” he asked, truly mystified.

  “Do what?” Dex asked, holding his bottle to Sloane for a toast. Sloane obliged.

  “How do you stay so damn happy all the time? It looks exhausting.”

  “I don’t know. I guess I don’t really have a reason not to be. I got a job I enjoy, good company,” he said with a wink, “an awesome family, a beer in my hand. What’s to be unhappy about?”

  “You’re one
of those annoying glass half-full guys, aren’t you?”

  “I’m more of a full glass kind of guy. Who wants half of anything?” He took a long swig of his beer, and Sloane’s gaze fell on Dex’s throat as he swallowed. He quickly looked away.

  “I wanted to say you did good at Greenpoint. I’m not happy you broke formation, but when things got rough, you came through for your team.”

  “Wow. Two compliments in one day,” Dex teased.

  Sloane took a sip of his beer, ignoring the way Dex leaned an elbow on the bar, his cheek resting against his fist as he sat facing Sloane, his smile reaching his eyes.

  “Yeah, well, don’t let it go to your head.”

  Dex gave him a cheeky grin and held up his beer. “That’s what these are for.”

  “Gonna be one of those nights, huh?”

  “I intend to get thoroughly and wonderfully fucked,” Dex replied proudly, taking another sip of his beer.

  “Been a while?”

  “Yeah. The last few months haven’t exactly given me much cause for celebrating.” He took a couple more gulps before sliding the empty bottle to one side. In seconds, another one appeared without him even asking for it. Sloane wouldn’t be surprised if a few digits accompanied the next one.

  “It must have been hard.” Sloane hadn’t really watched the news when the whole thing had gone down. He’d been busy with his own problems, but he’d heard about it. Maddock and Cael hadn’t mentioned it either, though he figured they’d most likely been protecting Dex. The rest of the office was a different story. The THIRDS didn’t get involved in HPF problems unless there was cause to, or if it became their jurisdiction but seeing as how the THIRDS was all about the union between Human and Therian, the case had stirred up plenty of interesting conversation and opinions. The consensus being the HPF detective had done the right thing.

  When Sloane had first met Dex, he hadn’t been sure about him turning in his partner, despite knowing it was the right thing to do, but he’d also been looking for any excuse to hate the guy. Now he could see how hard the whole thing had been on Dex, and he admired him for coming through it relatively unscathed.

  “I testified against my partner, which made me feel like shit. I got jumped in the parking garage after. Got home in time to watch my boyfriend move out, after he dumped me of course, then I got beat up at work, then I lost my job—so to speak. My first day of my new job, I got the crap beat out of me by my team leader, and then today I nearly got eaten by a pack of Therians. All in all, a pretty productive few months.”

  Sloane peered at him slyly. “Your team leader sounds like a real prick.”

  “He has his moments,” Dex replied with a wink, causing Sloane’s pulse to jump, at least until he caught onto what Dex had said.

  “Wait, back up. You got beat up twice? How’d that happen?”

  Dex shifted his gaze to his beer bottle, giving a shrug as he picked at the corner of the label. “They got the drop on me.”

  “Maybe your guilt got the drop on you.”

  “What are you talking about?” Dex mumbled, his feigned ignorance not fooling anyone.

  “Come on, Dex. Unless you were up against armed thugs or a hoard of ninjas, you could have kicked their asses. I’ve seen you fight.”

  “What? Our little sparring sessions in Sparta?” Dex scoffed.

  Sloane didn’t like what he was hearing, though he couldn’t say he was surprised. Dex was a good guy. He cared about those around him and went out of his way to do what was right. “You held your own against me. Believe me, that says a lot. Those guys who got the drop on you, were they Human?”

  “Yeah.”

  “Where they armed?”

  “Yes.” Sloane arched an eyebrow at him and Dex winced. “Sort of. They had a stick.”

  “Are you telling me a THIRDS agent couldn’t take down a bunch of punks with a stick?” He knew those steel batons were a bitch. They could do some real damage, but nothing compared to a firearm or blade. Dex was a very capable agent.

  “THIRDS rookie,” Dex muttered pathetically. “And they weren’t punks, they were cops.”

  “Shit.” Sloane ran a hand over his face. He nodded his understanding, not that he agreed with what Dex had done. He leaned forward, jabbing a finger against the bar’s sleek black surface. “That’s the last time that happens, you hear me? Letting those assholes beat the shit out of you will not make the guilt go away, believe me. You feel like you need an ass kicking, you let me know. I’ll throw you in the ring with Ash. I’m sure he’ll be happy to be of service.”

  Dex shuddered. “Point taken. How is it you two are best friends anyway? No offense, but the guy is a total douchebag.”

  “He’s not as bad as he seems.” Sloane took another sip of his beer. He wasn’t much in the mood for drinking tonight, though it might be because he wasn’t getting much of a chance while talking to Dex, not that he was complaining. Talking with Dex was easy. He could have a discussion that involved more than Ash’s Rule of the Three S’s—shooting, sex, and sports.

  “Really?”

  It took Sloane a moment to remember what he’d been talking about. “Yeah. We’ve known each other since we were kids. We were both in a rough place, I was in a rough place, and he helped me through it. He’s helped me through a few rough patches, actually. I know he can be a pain in the ass, but he would take a bullet for me. He has, quite literally.” Sloane shook his head, chuckling at the memory. “It was only a flesh wound. He bitched for months, milked it for all it was worth, but he’d earned it. He’s always had my back, and I’ve had his. We’re the only family we got.”

  “What about the rest of the team?”

  “They’re family, of course, but you know, Rosa’s got her girlfriend. They’ve been together ten years. Letty’s got a boyfriend over in Brooklyn. Calvin’s got his mom, and Hobbs has his parents and a couple of brothers. They’ve been friends since they were kids. Hobbs’s mom used to babysit Calvin when his mom was at work. They grew up in the same apartment complex. That’s why they’re so tight. Then there’s me and Ash.” He shrugged, not sure what else he could really say about it that wouldn’t sound pathetic even to his own ears. “So what happened with your partner?”

  Dex looked like he might not be ready to give up the previous conversation, but Sloane was grateful when he took a swig of beer and nodded. “It was supposed to be routine. We didn’t deal with Therian informants all that often, but they help the HPF more than the force wants to admit. Human criminals love to evade the HPF by hiding out in Therian neighborhoods, especially when they’re willing to pay for protection. Anyway, we were trying to find this guy who’d killed a store clerk during a robbery, and we knew he was hiding with a Therian gang. We found a guy who had information, and when we met up with him, he was just a kid, fifteen at most.

 
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